Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fleur de l'Europe | Polish Food in Brussels

So growing up, I loved a family dish called pigs-in-the-blanket (stuffed pork and beef cabbage rolls). It would take me a lifetime of travel and education before I'd find out the real name is Golabki or Sarmale (depending on which part of eastern Europe you're making it in). It's a major comfort food, and considering it's my favorite, I was going to be certain I went to a Polish restaurant while living in Brussels. I actually managed to get some, while visiting Poland a few weeks before, but when I got into this amazing conversation with a Russian woman on the flight back, she told me I had to go to a place over by parliament called Fleur de l'Europe.

If you would have told me that I would have been flying back from Krakow talking to a Russian about a family favorite food, and then go there with a friend from Rome, and someone aspiring to be Secretary of State, just a few months prior- I would have laughed.

But this is Brussels, and this is what you do. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. The place is small, but easy to find, just around the corner. They make some rather small, but very delicious versions of Golabki. Service was great, and I found myself exactly where I never thought I would be, full circle, eating the most amazing food, with the greatest company in all of Brussels.

The owners of Fleur de l'Europe risked everything to turn the place into a sanctuary for Polish M.P.s, who you can find at home watching Polish television or drinking beer during the week. Through hard-work they've created a great place for Polish food and culture in the city of Brussels.

Friday, January 11, 2013

To the future students of Vesalius College

Dear future Vesalius College Students,

I felt it necessary to write to you as my final part of attending Vesalius. You of course, likely, found this post by Googling, and arrived to this page serendipitously and by chance. Let me introduce myself. I am Liv Jones, and I attended Vesalius College in Brussels in the Fall of 2012. To say the least it was probably the best four months of my entire life. Indeed coming home was like being on the floor, my fingernails digging into the wood, and being dragged by the ankles through a closing door. My door has now shut, and I lean my ear against it from time to time to hear the whispers of the past, but for you, you bright-eyed individual, who is likely setting sail off to this wonderful place, it's just beginning. Here's my advice:

Vesalius is not Brussels. The faster you figure that out, the quicker you're going to enjoy life abroad Get involved outside of school, volunteer, make a point to get away from the other Americans. Use your foreign language skills you have (or will acquire), and for God's freaking sake, don't speak English outside of Veco.

Get drunk. Undoubtedly this is likely the first thing you will do, and repeat several times over. But don't just go to the Student Gov. sponsored crawls and parties. Set up a weekly drink meeting with some of the European students or new friends you make and try a new bar every week. I went to a different bar every Wed., and got to see, explore, and visit so much more of the city because of it. For the record, Delirium is not a bar in my opinion, it's a tourist trap. Go there once, but after that move on. Some students go there all semester. If you've ever noticed, Belgians don't go to Delirium. My favorite is Toone, it's near Grand Place, and features a 7th century puppet show. It's hidden down this little French-esque alley tourists, nor you, will likely find without some help. Which brings me to another tip.

Get a mobile sim card with a good data plan. I recommend Mobile Vikings. It's prepaid, 15 Euros a month and gives you unlimited data. I was able to use Google Maps all over Europe, while my counterparts stooped around in the dark. You have to wait till you arrive in Brux. to order one, but it will arrive in about a day after you order it.

Of course this brings us to the next morning. If you miss the last tram, or metro, or say you're trying to catch an early flight from Brussels South to Poland, and you need to get to Gare Du Nord, don't hire a taxi. My God, that's such a cop-out. When you get there, get your Metro card (Mobib) and set it up online with Villo (the bike stations around the city). That way whenever you need a bike you can rent one. Besides being very convenient, and often the only way of getting around, it's downright fun.

Then there's going to be those mornings where you're a bit hung-over. Oh if I haven't told you yet, Vesalius isn't really about going to school, it's about going abroad. Sure you'll get academically challenged, and it is very hard at times to balance everything, but this is a semester about being abroad, and about being someone different. It's about stumbling into class with an Opinio egg and cheese sandwich (perfect for hangovers), and trying your best to remember French conjugations which make no sense, despite the fact you can order a Durum in perfect French by now. Concerning Opinio, it's my opinion you should learn, at the very least, how to say "thank you" in Flemish if you're going to spend an entire semester over there eating.

Speaking of eating; the friture by Etterbeek, is the only one I know of which serves real beef on their mitraillettes (aka a machine gun sandwich). But the two best restaurants near Vesalius is in Place Flagey (about 2k walk from Veco). Those being Burger Republic, and Mama Romas. They also happen to be the best fast-foods in Brussels in my opinion. Want to impress your friends on the first day? Best frites in my opinion are at Place Jordan, and best waffle is in Stockel. For the record you've not truly studied abroad until you've eaten a Bicky Burger or ate a durum at the tram stop at 12:15 AM.

Concerning Vesalius itself, the sliding doors can be manually opened with your hands. The coffee is absolutely horrible, and let's face it, no one in the history of Veco can guarantee the internet will ever work. That said, you're going to love it. The professors, for the most part understand why you're here, they're flexible, and very knowledgeable about not only what you're studying, but also about Belgian culture and life. They were always there to guide me, to help me become more. In the end, I had felt I had become partially Belgian, and even to this day, as I sit in my American living room, typing these words out, the experiences I had in Brussels, and my travels there (do travel, PLEASE!) have shaped me in ways I could have never imagined.

One last tip. I walked across Spain, went to Auschwitz, Rome, Paris and all of Belgium. I have no regrets but one. I wish I could have stayed longer. If you can extend your stay, do so. If you can stay permanently, then do. Whatever you do however, even if you must leave, live every day there like it's you last, and make it a point to have no regrets. Because some day, a long time from now, you may wake up a thirty-five year old mother of two, like me, and regret your experience. But I don't regret a thing except saying goodbye.

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